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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Many of us wish we could afford those fancy Digital SLR's but the reality is most of us cant, or are unwilling to drop that cash on that expense atm when they could buy a bigger tank :D

So for us with the crap camera's perhaps lets share what has worked for us because personally i have had decent shots and complete crap from the same point and shoot digital

First thing, you are taking a picture of a fish tank, its pretty bright, so you'll want to change the setting EV (or Exposure compensation). Somewhere between -1 and -2. Personally i've had the best results at -2.

ISO setting, more often than not auto will shoot between 200-400, which will give you decent clarity, but i noticed with many point and shoots, if you select 800, it'll show as very grainy. 800iso is meant to capture the faster moving fish so they wont seem like a streak. I've had better luck with the room lights on at iso 800. With 400 and lower, it seems to come out better when the lights in the room are off.

NO FLASH! Unless you rig an external flash above your aquarium to shine into the water, you'll get reflection. Chances are if you can do that you have an SLR already and dont need to be reading this.

Macro: Use it for close shots, sometimes it works well at a distance, but it depends on a number of factors. Sometimes i take two shots of most thigns, in macro and non macro and what comes out and what doesn't is really a flip of the coin.

White balance: Leave at auto, i know we have flourescent, and most camera's have this option, but let the camera figure it out.

Metering mode: if you are doing a close up, try spot, otherwise stick with multi

Colour: Normal

Quality: Standard works fine for the web

leave sharpness alone.

Which dial setting should i use? well each camera is different. I use a sony and prefer Program Auto mode (P on the dial) because i can switch between iso 800 and auto. If you are not after the action shots, Auto mode (green camera icon on sony's) will do fine. In most cases you'll just need to adject EV to -2 in either mode.

Remember one key thing though, every camera is different, if something works for you, remember it. Some point and shoots can give SLR like shots almost every single picture, no point venturing outside auto mode unless you need to. But i notice with planted tanks, the bright greens often throw the auto functions off a tiny bit with the lesser quality models

649 Posts
You can always try to angle your camera so that when you shoot with a flash, it will not bounce directly at you. Here are some of my pics from Vancouver Aquarium

Shot with Fuji Finepix S1000fd. Both with flash.

Shot with Nikon D5000. Both with flash.

Also, having an editing software wouldn't hurt :)

8,717 Posts
true that, i tend to not like flash as it alters the colour a bit compared to how the tank is normally seen with your current lighting
Unfortunately, a lot of point and shoots already alter the white balance automatically in the auto mode, so actually the flash may (depending on the camera) give you a more natural colouration compared to auto white balance without a flash.

1,987 Posts
My camera blocks the view with a 'low light' message then the flash is turned off. Now I just angle the shot. (1st pic)
Also, laying a piece of mat black fabric in front of the aquarium, when possible, helps reduce bounced light and 'glare' patches like the one running along the front of 2nd pic.


Premium Member
453 Posts
B.C. ("Before the Crash") I had a long-winded primer on taking aquarium photos. Took me a while to re-write it, but here it is. I will post some "how to" pictures at some future date.

Aquarium Photography for Beginners

This is a quick and dirty crash course on taking photos with your digital point and shoot (P&S) camera. It is designed for the novice photographer who wants to take a few nice shots of their aquarium with little fuss and no muss.

Aquarium photography can be tricky because P&S cameras were designed mainly to take pictures of things who know how to stand still in good natural light such as your friends at weddings or grandma at a birthday party. So if you're trying to take a picture of little things darting around a (relatively) dimly lit environment, your P&S will show its limitations. As a result, you have to take control and manually adjust them to end up with a good image.

The difficulty with P&S cameras is that they have no consistency as to the functions you are able to manually control. Higher-end ones allow you as much control as an SLR, but many cheaper ones have very limited or no manual controls at all. Nevertheless, all digital cameras allow retrieval of meta-data (all the information about the settings the camera took each picture with) usually immediately after the picture is taken. With this information you can play around with your camera's different functions and modes to get a good picture regardless of how stubborn it is in wanting to do the thinking for you.

It's all about the light
The first and most important thing to know is that photography is nothing more than capturing light. This is as true today as it was at the beginning of the 19th century when photography was invented. In fact, cameras still working in generally the same way as well: light passes through a lens (that focuses the light), then through a diaphragm (that determines how much light gets through and for a how long) and finally hits the sensor/film. It is how you control these factors:
- the amount of light
- the distance it take to travel from the lens to the sensor/film
- the diameter that the diaphragm opens up to
- the time the diaphragm remains open
- the sensitivity of the sensor/film

As you can see, it all starts with the light. Generally speaking, the more light you have coming in, the easier it will be to take a good photo. Why this is so will become clear as we go along.

Once you get past the light itself, you camera and its various settings take over

Distance from lens to sensor
This is known as "focal length". It is expressed in millimeters. It is the least important piece of data for the novice photographer. It is sufficient to know that the bigger the number, the greater amount of "zoom". You'll see the focal lengths your camera is capable of written around the front of its lens.

I'm sure you've noticed that the more zoom you use (i.e. longer focal lengths), the harder it is to keep the camera steady. Other nuances of focal length are that longer ones result in flatter looking pictures whereas shorter ones will give a greater sense of depth, exaggerate diagonal lines and will begin to give a fish-eye look.

Diameter that the diaphragm opens and how long it stays open
This is known as "aperture". It is expressed in f-stops. Look for the "f" with a number next to it on your camera meta-data. The lower the number, the wider the diaphragm got when you took the picture. A wider diaphragm means more light gets through to the sensor. Generally speaking, you'll want as much light getting to your cameras sensor as possible. The trade-off is that wider apertures tend to decrease your "depth of field" (DOF) - how much of the picture is in sharp focus.

Aperture is very closely associated with the camera function we'll discuss next: shutter speed. This is because a wider aperture allows for a faster shutter speed because more light can get through in a shorter amount of time. You'll hear photo geeks talking about their "fast" lenses. What they mean is that their lens is capable of a very wide aperture, therefore allowing for very fast shutter speeds. An aperture of around f2.8 is considered a benchmark for a "fast" lens.

Shutter speed is expressed in fractions of a second such as 1/200, 1/50, or 0.5. The faster the shutter speed the better since you'll be able to capture faster movement without blurring. I find that with fish moving a regular cruising speed you need a shutter-speed in the neighbourhood of at most around 1/100. The trade-off is that faster shutter speeds will result in dimmer photographs because there is less light getting through.

Sensitivity of the sensor
This is known as "ISO" and comes in set numbers of 50, 100, 200, 400 and so on. The higher the ISO is more sensitive your sensor becomes to light. Therefore, lower light levels require higher ISOs. The trade-off with high ISO is that the picture itself will degrade. You'll see more digital artifacts and noise. This is down to the quality of your camera's sensor. In fact, one of the most important differences between SLRs and P&Ss is the ability to shoot high quality pictures in low light at high ISOs. The sensors in P&Ss simply cannot shoot good pictures at an ISO of higher than around 800. As a result, more light means you can shoot at a lower ISO and get a higher quality picture.

Putting it together
As you can see, it is all about light. More light allows you to use higher f-stops giving you greater DOF. It allows you faster shutter speeds giving less motion blur. It allows for lower ISOs giving you better quality pictures.

So why do your flash pictures of your aquarium look so unnatural? Twofold: because the flash is reflecting off of the glass back at the camera and the flash is light up the outside of the aquarium as opposed to the inside where it is needed.

The easiest way to get more light into your aquarium is to simply add an extra fixture or two shining down on top if only temporarily. I can pretty much guarantee that even on full-auto mode doing this will help your aquarium photos immeasurably. You know all those fancy professional aquarium photos? Virtually all of them use extra overhead lighting of some sort whether in the form of spotlights shining from above of remotely operated flashes.

A note on white balance
White balance ("WB") is the colour temperature that the photograph comes out in. Most P&S digital cameras even in "Auto WB" mode will be biased indoors towards a WB of warm white light (~3,200K). Most FW aquariums are lit at around 6,700K and SW ones can go up to 20,000K. This can result in some odd looking colours. Setting WB to "Cloudy" (at least on Canons) often does the trick for FW aquariums and most cameras have a custom WB setting if you reading the instruction manual. However, I find that simply correcting WB on computer photo processing software is actually easier. Nowadays, even many freeware photo programs offer the basic correction tools that the novice would need to fix common issues like WB.

Summary and other tips
- Add as much overhead lighting as possible
- Aim for lower f-stops, faster shutter speeds and lower ISO.
- Do not use your camera's flash
- Shoot directly straight-on and perpendicular to the glass - shooting at an angle will skew the image (and God help you if you have a bowfront)
- Turn off all other lighting in the room
- Turn off all your pumps and filters
- Move your feet first before you zoom in and out
- Clean both sides of the glass
- Shoot at maximum resolution
- Use a tripod - this is essential for taking macro shots

And the most important thing of all: have patience!!!! It can take dozens, even hundreds of shots before you get the perfect one. Remember, it's not like you're wasting film. ;)
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